The Elephant in the Room

Oryana explores the current debate on maternity leave in Australia.

Wonder women_profile_OryanaOryana Angel

The Coalition’s proposed maternity leave scheme is enticing, but it just draws light to what’s really missing. 

People on both side of the debate are going gaga about Tony Abbott’s proposed maternity leave scheme – some say it’s too generous and will come at a fiscal burden to the nation, others say it is just the tip of the iceberg in support of working families.

For those who haven’t heard, Abbott is promising women who give birth after July 2015 that they will be paid their usual salary (capped at $150,000) for 26 weeks, if he is elected.

At the moment Australian mothers are entitled to 18 weeks’ pay at minimum wage (something in the vicinity of $620 a week).

But love it or loathe it Abbot’s maternity leave is not so extravagant compared to what other countries offer. Although perhaps it could be capped a little lower to really help the women that need it?

In the Nordic countries it’s not uncommon for a woman’s full wage to be paid for a year or more, with the Swedish government paying a generous 80 per cent of a parent’s salary – capped at around $65,000 – for 13 months.

But the big question we should be asking of Abbott (and Kevin Rudd for that matter) is what proviso is in place for after those first heady six months of parenthood?

Throughout the whole election campaign Abbott has been tight-lipped about how he plans to reduce the crippling cost and unavailability of childcare.

The Work and Family Policy Roundtable – a group of 30 academics from 18 universities specialising in workplace issues such as parental leave, childcare and job security – were not so critical of Rudd.

They found that Labor’s promise of a $450 million boost for out-of-school care and its childcare funding plans were superior to the Coalition’s promise of a Productivity Commission into the affordability of day care.

In other academic circles Rudd and before that, ousted PM Julia Gillard, have been credited with increasing the level of childcare quality, access and affordability.

Taking into account the 50 per cent Child Care Rebate, increased from 30 per cent under Labor in 2008, parents are still shelling an exorbitant amount of money so their children can be looked after while they work.

According to a survey, the daily cost of one child at a childcare centre varies between $65 and $165 a day. At the top end of the range (areas of inner-city Melbourne and Sydney) that puts the weekly bill at $681 after the government rebate is claimed.

Whatever way it’s calculated, a woman, even on a decent salary, with two kids in childcare, will not be left with much after paying childcare and work-related costs.

There are also lengthy waiting lists – up to three years in some places – and great inflexibility for women wanting to increase days and take on more work.

Taking this all into account, it’s little wonder that Australia has one of the lowest rates of educated women participating in the workforce in the world. Yet, ironically on an international scale, we have one of the highest rates of educating women overall.

According to a Deloitte report, the workforce participation gap comes at a cost of $180 billion to Australia’s GDP. The report also scolds Australian business for wasting women’s talents and says that implementing flexible working solutions, such as childcare and variable work hours, are the key components in supporting the return to work.

Educated and experienced doctors, teachers, engineers and nurses, are having babies then not returning to the workforce.

To entice these women back to work there needs to be good, affordable and available childcare as well as flexible working conditions.

These are questions that we should be demanding answers for.

Yes, a decent paid maternity leave scheme is a step in the right direction, but it’s peanuts and there’s an elephant in the room.

Oryana Angel – Parenting
Aside from spending time with her two children and husband, Oryana can be found in the well-trodden halls of News Limited where she writes for The Australian, The Daily Telegraph andSunday Telegraph. She has also written for Australian Geographic, New Zealand Herald, Jerusalem Post, Sydney Morning Herald, The Big Issue, Cosmopolitan and more. Growing up with hippie parents she rebelled by going to uni, marrying a nice young man and later enforcing routine on her own children. Nowadays she enjoys getting to the heart of important social issues, telling people’s stories and enjoying the journey of life. You can contact Oryana or read other articles she has written, at .
Life Balance = Family. Friends. Nature.